Throughout my life, despite many a long-term relationship, the word “solo” was part of my identity- I tend to walk some crazy paths others wouldn’t dare…alone. And I’ve liked it that way, for the most part. I knew from a young age I was meant to be a strong independent woman and would do the things necessary to become the best version of that. This “Independent Solo Woman” identity was solidified in me once I left to travel around the world alone.
I left home scared (and silent) with only my backpack. I promised myself I would NOT find love, but wold find myself instead. (SPOILER ALERT: I found both.)
Despite the fancy pictures and crazy stories, that first year wasn’t easy going it alone, but it was the challenge I needed. My soul needed to know I could handle walking the world alone. I wanted to find a greater purpose in the world- and the secrets to living a happy life. I called it life a “quarter life crisis,” bought a backpack and flew away.
You may remember, I publicly proclaimed I would not be like Liz from Eat, Pray, Love.
My mantra was consistent: “This is NOT about love, men, etc., and I will steer clear of ‘catching any feelings.'”
And I did.
I traveled across Europe and South East Asia and saw more than I could ever imagine. I fell in love with the world again. I wandered and explored, looked inward, outward and onward, trying to make peace with life. I realized I never needed anyone in the first place, and freedom was AWESOME.
I fell in love with it…the freedom. I fell in love with being on the road and constantly meeting new people, only to say goodbye the next day. The forced quick detachment from people forged a stronger shell of me- someone who always had a tendency of hanging on too long.
Sixteen countries in to my travels, I found my footing and started walking with a “pep in my step,” as they say. Solo traveling became me, and I became solo traveling.
Then…. I flew to South Africa and everything changed.
I fell in love.
I became the Eat, Pray, Love cliche after all.
I tried to talk myself out of it. But it’s true what they say: When you know, you know. And I knew, I was supposed to come to South Africa, and I was supposed to meet him.
But I kept talking myself out of it. How could I not continue on my original path? I had more countries to check off my list….
After about a month in South Africa, I booked a flight out and planned to leave the romance in the dust.
The day came and I had to get to the airport. We were both somber. Quiet and sad. As I packed up my stuff, each item seemed heavier than it was and twice it’s size, making it impossible to fit everything. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave. My internal compass screamed at me. I wasn’t going. He had already sunk his grip on my heart. I skipped that first flight out and didn’t look back. I dived into an international romance, like so many other girls. We’re all just a bunch of hopeless romantics aren’t we?
They say you find love when you’re not looking for it, and I was taking it even further, trying to actively avoid anything serious. I never EVER wanted my entire journey to amount to “a relationship.”
I wanted my travels to be about living MY best life.
What I didn’t realize was possible was that I could live my best life with someone else, should I let myself- and that, my friends, was the hardest part. Giving up my “solo identity” and finding a new one that involved being someone’s partner. I think this is a lesson we all learn as we get older and settle down- putting our former, single selves to rest.
The transition from being a solo traveler back to “normalcy” was difficult to begin with- and adding in a new relationship only complicated the process.
I spent many months of the past year depressed- making me wonder what the hell I learned on the road all that time and why I couldn’t apply it now. He held my hand through all the confusion and we became a great couple.
I had the opportunity to not only be in love, but to do it while living in a beautiful place like Cape Town, and even though it meant abandoning my original plan, I wouldn’t change a thing.
BUT….you guys know me by now, I tell it like it is. The good, the bad and ugly.
International romance is not everything you see in the movies. There are some harsh pills to swallow regarding an international love affair:
1. Expiration Dates (visas, and other headaches)
Whether you like it or not, boundaries (like actual BORDERS) will stand between you and your newfound love at some point. Depending on where you’re from and who you’re in love with, you could be limited to seeing each other mere weeks at a time before being required to return home. This certainly challenged my relationship and put unnecessary pressure on us both.
2. Cultural Differences
I can’t even begin to tell you how many arguments have been had over things neither of us thought we were doing wrong or saying wrong. When you come from different worlds, it impacts your entire communication process.
3. Language Barriers
Okay, so this one can actually be a huge positive- not to mention pretty funny at the beginning of the relationship.
This is a challenge that comes up no matter where you are on the planet, but particularly when you are partaking in a cross-cultural relationship. I never wanted to believe race was an issue that concerned me or anyone I knew. I was ignorant, and sheltered. I grew up in a bubble, I will be the first to admit. But the harsh reality you learn the older you get and the more you travel, is that race is and always will be a factor at some level. It shouldn’t be. NO, it should NOT be, but it is. Never have I been so conscious of the color of my skin while living in South Africa. Every person I meet asks me two questions: “Why are you here?” My boyfriend is here. “Oh, is black or white?” Judgments and implications follow.
5. Friends and Family
No matter where you two settle, you will probably end up far away from one your loved ones, and THAT is the ultimate test. What and WHO can you really sacrifice for this relationship? Like I said before…this whole situation puts A LOT of pressure on a relationship, and it certainly did for us.
These are all things I’ve had to deal with the past year I spent in South Africa, and I’ve learned a lot, to say the very least.
One last bit of truth from a hopeless romantic: Falling in love abroad (or anywhere else) is easy. It’s the relationship that’s hard work…
And the living in a foreign country? Well that can be even harder.
Take it from me, living in a foreign country is far different than visiting. Go ask your nearest immigrant (Ps. Shouldn’t we all have so many more open discussions with people who have immigrated? But that’s another topic for another day, isn’t it?)
Like any person who’s been in a relationship can tell you: Eventually you admit to yourself through the rose-colored glasses: “This. Shit. Is. Hard. But it’s also totally worth it, right?”
I will let you know later…
(More on this to come soon.)